Flowers are some of my favorite things on this planet. Along with food and good friends, ninety percent of the photos on my computer are comprised of these three simple things. And then a large chunk of these are all date stamped between the end of March and the beginning of April, hanami season. That time of year when the weather starts to shift from super cold and bitter winter winds to that light and gently warm breeze of spring. The days suddenly begin to stretch out and dusk becomes just late enough that you can finally enjoy yourself after work. It's this time of year when everyone begins to peek their heads out of their kotatsu and finally stretch their legs after the winter hibernation. After being holed up for a few months, it's finally time to see friends again, invite people out for drinks. What better place than under the cherry trees.
Now, in my experience there are two kinds of hanami. The more personal private one, where a couple of friends or just a couple dating will get together and have bento and a drink or two. The romantic feel of the petals floating around while you share an intimate time enjoying each other's company. Then there is the second larger style, where everyone gets together, brings food and or drinks to share, and each person seems to invite someone. The more the merrier right? More friends, more food, more booze. So what happens if you get invited to a hanami and no one gives you the deets about what to bring and for how many? Well you can do the smart thing and just ask, or you can be more like me and just wing it. A good and easy go to would be just about any snack food. No one will judge if you show up with just a bag of (insert favorite deep fried crunchy salty and or sweet item from a nearby convenience store) and an onigiri of your desired variety. This is just incase others were expecting you to bring your bento and you can just play it off as not being too terribly hungry. I've seen beer and a stick of chicken for lunch. This brings me to the next thing to be sure to bring.
. If you don’t drink then just ignore this bit, but alcohol, particularly beer and chuhi(fizzy cocktails in a can) are the standard hanami fare. You will even find non-alcoholic beer being had by the non drinkers so that they can fit into the true hanami vibe. Or you know, just bring a bottle of water to cut the calories you are probably going to partake in with that bag of (delicious full fat, savory sweet and most likely too small to fill your tummy snack) and onigiri. Seriously, no one is judging. Except this guy. He thinks it’s blasphemy if your cup isn't full, even if you’ve never met before and are two picnic blanket parties over. He flagged a few of us down and invited us to a few rounds of beer and some mumble-y conversation. Very good fun! It wasn’t the first or only time that I’ve been invited to join other groups enjoying the blossoms. Just don’t forget to bring that bag to share with these guys and gals too.
But maybe you are more of a foodie. You’d like to make something to bring and impress your friends and the locals you are bound to meet. Well, Japan loves its food, whether it's celebrities eating food, making food or just walking around a town explaining where all the food is, you will see it on almost every Japanese TV channel. So during hanami season, everything becomes picnic based. The recipes they show can almost always be used in bento for the small group hanami or made in larger quantities to be shared with the many friends and new acquaintances at the bigger parties. Remember the above mentioned friendly drunk guy, this was his hanami spread. And of course it was shared just like the beer. . Often the ingredients are simple, but presentation has the most impact. No matter your cooking skills, if you put it in a pretty box that matches the season, and you have napkins to go with it, everyone will think you put so much effort into preparing such a wonderful meal, even if you just went to Daiso or some other local 100 yen shop. At the end of the day though, it's not what you bring, but enjoying the company you are with, and the natural beauty that Japan’s spring brings for such a short time each year. So stay out until the moon comes up, or much later, but do enjoy at least one hanami this year.